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The Day Everyone in Sweden Had to Start Driving On the Other Side of the Road

On September 3, 1967, Swedes waking up to run normal Sunday errands had to account for a rather drastic overnight change. Starting that morning, all cars in Sweden had to drive on the right side of the road. It was Dagen Högertrafik ("H Day"), "right-hand traffic diversion day."

Since the advent of the automobile though September 2, 1967, Swedish motorists had been driving on the left. This was mainly out of habit. Carriage traffic in the 18th and 19th centuries flowed down the left side of Sweden’s narrow roads, and the tradition continued with cars even though most automobiles in the country were left-hand drive. Drivers sat all the way on the other side of the road from oncoming traffic, and authorities feared this contributed to accidents (especially head-on collisions). Sweden’s neighboring countries all had right-side traffic patterns, and border crossings played out like a game of chicken in ultra-slow-mo.

For decades, Swedish authorities wanted to institute a change, though the public was vehemently against it. A referendum was held in 1955 on the matter, and Swedes came out in droves to reject the switch—82.9 percent of voters insisted they still wanted to drive on the left. In 1963, the Swedish Riksdag eschewed public opinion and decided to finally make the change. They circled a date that would give everyone enough time to prepare: September 3, 1967.

Preparing Drivers For the Right Side

A country doesn’t simply wake up one morning and start following new traffic rules in perfect unison, though if there were one such country, it would likely be Sweden. Authorities treated Dagen H as a public safety measure and social experiment rolled into one. According to Time, psychologists were hired to talk with drivers and pedestrians to gauge concerns and help determine the most effective ways to promote the change.

A massive PR campaign was launched to alert everyone of the upcoming H Day. Swedish television held a songwriting contest to find the best ditties about driving on the right side of the road. A Stockholm department store sold men’s shorts emblazoned with a big “H” on their butts. Around the country, signs were erected to serve as reminders—they simply read “3.9 1967.” By Dagen H, everyone knew what they meant.

Högertrafik For You, Högertrafik For Me, Högertrafik For Everybody

In preparation for the change, Sweden's road network had to be readied through a myriad of projects. Street and highway signs around the country were to be reversed or changed. Bus stops were moved across streets. In Sweden’s biggest cities, trams were removed from their tracks and replaced with buses that featured doors on their right-hand sides. New traffic signals were installed but shrouded in black plastic, waiting for the big day to be unveiled.

Starting at 1 a.m. on the morning of September 3 (and as early as 10 a.m. the previous day in large cities like Stockholm), no one in Sweden was allowed to drive. The roads were cleared of non-essential traffic until 5 a.m. and, throughout the night, state employees went to work.

Crowds started gathering in Stockholm’s biggest intersections around 4 a.m. According to a Glasgow Herald reporter, the event was treated “almost as a festival.” Fireworks filled the light Scandinavian morning sky and “singing from an impromptu choir” rang out. At a busy junction, the Scottish journalist watched what looked to be “every taxi driver in Stockholm” line up in anticipation. At 4:50 a.m., “cycles and taxis were guided across the road by the police.” They would never drive on the left side ever again.

In Sweden’s larger cities, civilian traffic wasn’t permitted to return to its normal levels until the afternoon, but by early evening the entire country had flip-flopped over to the right side of the street.

Throughout the Sunday of Dagen H, there were 157 reported automobile accidents, fewer than an average Sunday in Sweden. The Monday after the change saw 125 reported accidents which, again, was a lower number than normal. A visiting British traffic expert was impressed with the change, but didn't want to get ahead of himself. "We have only seen the bride and groom brought to the altar," he told the AP. "The citizens of Sweden have now embarked on their honeymoon. It is too early to judge the results.”

Accident levels returned to normal after six weeks, and the dip immediately after the change was likely the result of highly prudent driving. Still, Dagen H is seen as a success that is unlikely to ever be repeated on such a large scale. Feel free to celebrate Sweden's achievement today by letting your hair down and driving on the correct side of the road in an orderly fashion.

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Design
This Is How Kids Envision the Cars of the Future
Charlotte, 12
Charlotte, 12
GoCompare

You don’t need a driver's license to have big ideas about how cars can be improved. Take it from these kids: When they were asked by the car insurance comparison website GoCompare to draw their visions for the cars of the future, they didn’t hold back. The sketches, first spotted by Co.Design, suggest there are cupcake boosters, rainbow headlights, and shark fin rooftops on the horizon for the auto industry.

GoCompare’s gallery features the original doodles alongside their professionally illustrated counterparts. Some designs take cues from science fiction, as is the case with 11-year-old Paula’s double-decker hover car. The magnetic bottom pushes against the magnetic roads beneath it to glide above the ground. Then, there's 12-year-old Charlotte’s Rainbow Convertible 3000, which uses giant wings to float over traffic.

Power sources include chocolate fuel and rocket boosters. On the practical side, some kids worked electric generators and solar panels into their designs, anticipating the real-world need for alternative energy.

Kids drawing of car of the future.
Zach, 11

Kids drawing of car.
Isla, 6

Kids drawing of car.
Kyre, 11

Kids drawing of car.
Paula, 11

Kids drawing of car.
Joel, 11

Kid's drawing of car.
Boban, 11

Kid's drawing of car.
Danelle, 11

Kid's drawing of car.
Charlie, 11

Kid's drawing of car.
Harnitha, 11

Kids' dreams for the future extend far beyond cars. Here are some examples of what kids came up with when asked to draw the house of tomorrow.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of GoCompare.

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Live Smarter
5 Questions to Ask Your Auto Mechanic
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iStock

Own a car long enough and you will eventually find yourself standing in an auto repair shop trying to decipher what the technician is trying to tell you. The only common language? How much it’s going to cost.

Even though you might not understand all the nuts and bolts of a repair job, it’s still important you have enough information to make an informed decision. We asked mechanic Charles Sanville of The Humble Mechanic blog to pass along five simple questions that should elicit some helpful information from a repairman before (and after) you commit to getting the work done.

1. “CAN YOU SHOW ME THE PROBLEM?”

Most mechanics are not out to rip you off. But if they are, they can often be tripped up by a simple request to see which part is in need of attention. “You always want to ask this,” Sanville says. “Tell them you want to see the part that’s failing.” While some issues might be with a car’s electronics and therefore won’t have a physical spot to point to, it’s still a good idea to try. Having a visual aid will also make a tech’s explanation easier to understand.

2. “WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T FIX THIS?”

Be sure to ask the shop what the consequences might be of not taking care of an issue right away. “You should ask what happens in the long term if something doesn’t get fixed,” Sanville says. While a timing belt might need replacement, it’s possible it might be good for another few thousand miles; a brake issue probably can’t wait.

3. “CAN YOU PRIORITIZE THESE REPAIRS?”

Some technicians make repairs seem like urgent matters, but not everything needs to be addressed immediately. “Having five issues isn’t uncommon, but a couple of them might not be a big deal and can wait,” Sanville says. “Have them prioritize what’s wrong with the car.”

4. “CAN I SEE THE DEFECTIVE PART?”

Before the repair has been made, request that the shop save the faulty part so you can take a look. “Sometimes they’ll let you keep it,” Sanville says, depending on disposal requirements. It’s tangible proof they did the work promised.

5. “CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW YOU FIXED IT?”

Don’t worry about understanding much—or any—detail about the repair work. What you really want, Sanville says, is to build a relationship with the technician and not just the service advisor behind the counter. “Ask them to explain in a technical way what the problem was, how they caught it, and how it was fixed. It’ll help build a relationship and then you’ll have your own tech. You can bring it to ‘Bill’ instead of just ‘ABC Auto.’ That’s a guy who will know you and know your car and do what he can to keep you on the road.”

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